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Better to Have Gone Review: Dawn of a New Humanity – The Wall Street Journal

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Utopias are not, by definition, found on this side of paradise. Yet that truth hasnt stopped visionaries and seekersnot to mention knaves and foolsfrom trying to build communities on lofty principles and quixotic aspirations. One such wonderland is Auroville, a commune in Indias Tamil south whose heady origins can be traced to the incense-and-raga days of the 1960s. Akash Kapurs Better to Have Gone (Scribner, 344 pages, $27) is a haunting and elegant account of this attempt at utopia and of his familys deep connections to it.

Established in 1968 by a Frenchwoman with a God-complex, Auroville is a place committed to human unity and fostering evolution. Its first residents comprised a few hundred people from France, Germany and the U.S. and a sprinkling of other Europeansmost of them hippie-refugees from Western materialismas well as like-minded Indians. Today, 53 years later, its population stands at some 2,500. Few intentional communitiesnow, or everhave survived that long, writes Mr. Kapur. The world militates against . . . anywhere that tries to play by different rules.

The word Auroville was derived from auroreFrench for dawnwith a convenient echo, also, of the name of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian guru born in 1872. Mirra Alfassa, the Frenchwoman-founder, became Aurobindos acolyte in 1920 and his spiritual successor when he died in 1950. Alfassa came to be addressed by everyone as the Mother, and there was even an Indian postage stamp issued in her honor.

According to the Mothers founding charter, this City of Dawn belonged to nobody in particular but to humanity as a whole. To live in Auroville, one had to be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness, and each resident was vetted personally by the Mother. Although she is still revered in Indiawhere obeisance is accorded much too easily to anyone with spiritual pretensesits hard not to regard the Mother as a charlatan. Auroville, in her words, was a place where the embryo or seed of the future supramental world might be created. And it was no secret that she craved immortality.

Mr. Kapur and his wife, Auralicea name given to her by the Mother, who asserted the right to name all children born to her flockboth grew up in Auroville. Auralice was born in 1972, Mr. Kapur two years later. Auralices mother, Diane Maes, was a woman from rural Flanders whod arrived at Auroville as an 18-year-old. Headstrong and flirtatious, she soon separated from the biological father of her daughter and took up with another Auroville man named John Walker, in many ways the books most compelling (and infuriating) character.

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Better to Have Gone Review: Dawn of a New Humanity - The Wall Street Journal

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A Must-Read English Commentary On Isopanisad Which Is Also An Exercise In Svadhyaya – Swarajya

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Isopanisad: An English Commentary. Nithin Sridhar. 2021. Subbu Publication. Rs 348. It is available for purchase on Amazon and the publisher website.

A study of the scriptures (svadhyaya) and teaching and disseminating (pravacana) them is enjoined as a very important activity in the Taittiriyopanisad.

The word svadhyaya deserves attention. Pravacana is also possible only by svadhyaya. The meaning of it is generally presented as sva-adhyaya reflecting upon oneself. But in a sanskrit-sanskrit dictionary Sabdakalpadruma (Vol 5, Page 5) the meaning of the word is given as follows:

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A good/thorough, repeated study

Based on this, svadhyaya points to that activity where one has to carefully study the text (especially the Vedic text) over and over again and also with a great amount of focus and perfection. At the outset itself, let me state that the commentary of Nithin Sridhar on Isavasyopanisad is based on such a sincere svadhyaya!

The very structure of the book shows the great ekagrata one pointed focus with which Sridhar has approached the subject. The mantras of the upaniads are given, followed by a word-to-word translation, meaning and analysis and finally a summary of the discussion. The references to the textual sources pertaining to the discussion are given at the end of each of the mantras. It is in this format that each of the 18 mantras of Isavasyopanisad is presented. And the second part of the book is a detailed discussion on the salient teachings of the upanisad in four sections.

This interpretation follows the Advaitic philosophy and based on the bhasya (commentary) of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada. Sri Aurobindos views are also quoted in the context of Mantras 9 and 16.

I thoroughly enjoyed the lucid flow of the commentary throughout the book. I will highlight and share my views on those elucidations that I enjoyed most:

1) The clarification on the term ekam used in Mantra 4 was insightful. The difference between the Abrahamic idea of one god and the upanisadic view of one god was a very fundamental clarification. It needs to be understood and remembered by one and all, especially in the current times when the cross currents from various religious thoughts are very intensely felt on Hindu minds.

2) I enjoyed reading the approach of Sridhar in dealing with the tricky portion of vidya, avidya, sambhuti, and asambhuti. Sridhar has not rushed through this portion. The idea of karma, devatopasana, karyabrahma and avyaktopasana has been discussed in a very detailed, systematic and clear manner. The samuccaya among these practices that has been presented by the upanisad and clarified by a commentary of Sri Sankara-Bhagavatpada has been presented with clarity.

With my background in study and research in Yoga texts the discussion on karyabrahma and prakrtyupasana reminded me of the parallels in yoga sutra. The self-same concepts have been presented by sage Patanjali in the sutra (1.19) where sadhakas, through the attainment of samadhi on indriyas and prakrti, become videhas and prakatilayas respectively.The upanisadic connect/inspiration to this yoga sutra becomes clearer to me by this.

Continuing with the same topic while very meticulously adhering to the interpretative framework of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada Sridhar also carefully presents his views on vidya and avidya (verses 9-11, pages 73, 74), which seem to be very much in line with the upanisadic thought flow.

Further, the process of krama-mukti under this section has been very well explained without leaving any element of doubt. To be specific, the idea that krama-mukti should not be taken as liberation without atma-jnana, is clarified under footnote 10 (Page 72) and is worth noting. The footnote says that even the one in the path of krama-mukti will attain atma-jnana in satya-loka and only then attain liberation.

As I was reading this portion, certain yoga sutra inputs regarding krama-mukti flashed in my mind. In sage Vyasas commentary to sutra (YS 3.26) the various higher lokas are described where sadhakas, at various levels, journeying towards krama-mukti reside. The description of these lokas and the residents of those higher lokas and their sadhanas are described in the commentary to the sutra. The reference to the content therein, in a future edition of Sridhars commentary, may quench the thirst for knowledge of those who would want to know more about those higher lokas and what sadhakas do in their journey to krama-mukti.

3) The discussion on the meanings of the terms vyuha and samuha in Mantra 16, where the views of Sri Aurobindo at the psychological level are brought in by Sridhar, is worth noting. The commentator clarifies that the rays here are taken as citta-vrittis/thoughts that are to be regulated towards receiving the knowledge of the Satya Brahman.

On reading this discussion, I, as someone interested in poetry and, thereby, in imagery and symbols, started thinking about the upanisadic symbolism in this mantra where an upasaka in his death bed is praying to the Sun god. He requests the Sun to expand/spread or even take away/remove the rays (Sri Sankarabhasya ) and withdraw or unite the light (Sri Sankarabhasya I imagined many ideas regarding the purpose of such a prayer. Could it be:

Oh! Sun God, at your biological level you keep on doing your routine act of expanding and withdrawing of rays. May you be capable of fulfilling your duty for the cosmos well. But in my case death is approaching hence my routine and duties connected with this body is ending. So lead me to my desired goal of realisation of Satya Brahman.

Or is the seeker, by referring to the regular act of the Sun expanding the rays during sunrise and contracting rays at the sunset, wants himself to be engulfed by the expanding suns rays and then gathered through the suns rays and transported to the realm of Surya to directly perceive the auspicious Satya Brahman?

I was tempted to imagine all these by looking at the symbols and imagery. But Sridhar, unlike me, does not indulge in any such imagination. As a commentator, he keeps his feet firmly on the ground and presents his interpretation within the philosophical and psychological framework.

4) Another beautiful aspect about the commentary is the way in which the cross-references are presented by the author. Various Upanisadic texts, smrtis and other vedantic works of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada are quoted. But the quotes are given to a specific end. Those references are not adduced merely to show the scholarship of the commentator. Quotes are brought in only to serve as explanation or clarification on the specific point under discussion. This shows how serious the commentator is about his job.

Many instances can be cited from the commentary in this regard. For example: The purport and purpose of the prayer to Pusan that is hinted in verse 15 of Isavasyopanisad has been put in perspective by bringing in the details of a suryamandaladaksinaksi upasana on Satya Brahman from Brhadaranyakopanisad (5.5). The details provided herein from the Brhadaranyakopanisad aptly clarifies the purpose of this prayer to Pusan of Isavasyopanisad (Pages 87-88). This to me is a classic example of quoting and referencing with a specific purpose in the task of interpretation. This is worth emulating and a good lesson for those desirous of writing interpretations and commentaries. This was about part one where each of the mantras was explained.

5) Part two of the work conveys the philosophy of the upanisad in four major parts, namely the theme of the upanisad, the pravrtti, nivrtti paths and the third path. The beauty of this section is that it's a succinct presentation of the entire Hindu way of life which comprises karma, bhakti and jnana, samskaras, yajnas, dharma, the samanya and visesa, varna and asrama system and the underlying thought behind it, and the three-fold upasana-puja-bhakti. All these concepts are discussed herein with textual references, with clarity of understanding and presentation.

As I was studying this portion, it occurred to me that the commentator could have included a brief note on dinacarya and rtucarya (daily and seasonal routines), though it could have been a slight digression from the vedantic and dharmasastric framework within which the commentator is explaining the concepts. But it is to be noted that the smriti texts do describe ideal daily routines dinacarya for a grhastha. Ayurveda, in which dinacarya and rtucarya are mentioned, is an upaveda. Based on the brief hint on dinacarya and rtucarya, an interested reader can explore more. If these two aspects are included, any seeker, inspired by the work and who would want to follow the vedic-upaniaadic way of life, will right away get a practical starting point in his day-to-day life.

In my view, this second portion in itself can become a booklet that introduces the Dharmika Hindu way of life and the goals therein. The sections herein are crisp and well referenced. But it has to be mentioned that the final section of the book (Pages 183-191) on the third path the path to suffering jolts the reader and gives a reality check. The suffering that the unmindful way of life brings is presented vividly with references from various textual sources. Though the description of the sufferings in various narakas might disturb the unprepared mind, the author might have felt that such a shock treatment might be needed to urge the readers to take up the pravrtti and nivrtti paths enjoined in the sastras with all seriousness.

I have a few friendly suggestions to conclude.

a. On the conclusion, I have already said that the book ends with the description of the third path an unmindful way of life, a life swayed by the distractions of the senses and emotional upheavals of the mind. There could have been a reassuring conclusion after creating a sense of much-needed remorse and introspection in the reader by detailing the consequences of the tritiya marga. Quotes from the Bhagavad Gita where the Lord gives hope would have helped.


(Translation: Even if thou art the most sinful of all sinners, yet thou shalt verily cross all sins by the raft of knowledge).

Further, the spirit of Swami Vivekanandas statement that each soul is potentially divine, and we are all offspring of immortality, , and not eternal sinners could have been adduced. This characterises the eternal optimism that Hindu dharma has in humanity. Thus this wonderful exposition could have ended on a more positive note.

b. In part one, at the end of each of the mantras, a few questions and scenarios from life or activities for thinking and reflecting could have been provided to make the reader engage more with the content of discussion.

c. In the future editions of the book, as an appendix, an alphabetical list of the set of concepts and frameworks such as arisadvarga purusartha esanatraya sadbhavavikara karma-prabheda (sancita, agami etc) that were beautifully discussed in the book could be added with page numbers in the commentary where they are elaborated.

d. A short glossary of oft-repeated samskrta terms such as paramarthika-dasa, vyavaharika-dasa, karmanusthana, pravrttimarga, nivrttimarga, etc, will also be a useful addition and source of reference to the readers.

e. A flow chart in the appendix that summarises the discussion on the three paths could help the readers develop a quick recap of the entire focus of the book.

With these suggestions, I conclude my review and I heartily congratulate Sridhar once again for this wonderful achievement of writing a lucid commentary on Isavasyopanisad to generate renewed interest among people in ever relevant upanisadic lore. Indeed, it is an elegant expression of svadhyaya.

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A Must-Read English Commentary On Isopanisad Which Is Also An Exercise In Svadhyaya - Swarajya

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In quest for utopia, Auroville hopes that it can create a society without money using an app –

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In 2015, South Korean professor Jaeweon Cho hit upon a plan to revolutionise economics by commodifying human excreta. Powders derived from poop, he suggested, could act as fertilisers and biofuel, supplying food to microorganisms. This was the basis of his dream of fSM or Fecal Standard Money, which would create a modern society not based on traditional money.

Four years later, Chos seemingly esoteric idea inspired a virtual currency experiment 6,000 kilometers in Auroville, the 3,000-person international township of communal, spiritual living in Tamil Nadu.

Since late 2019, every Aurovillian who downloaded a mobile application has received 12 auras. Three auras of this allotment must be utilised in a select network of other Aurovillians. To discourage hoarding and keep the currency in circulation, auras depreciate by 9% every day.

Its very much in the Auroville spirit, said S Venkatakrishnan, who works as a Tamil translator and is one of the 400 users of the app. He uses the app to exchange his gardening and kitchen supplies. Others offer gardening lessons, a trip to the beach with friends or homemade food.

The new currency has been viewed with both enthusiasm and disappointment. In some way, residents say, the aura is emblematic of the rocky economics of Auroville itself, a work-in-progress marked by numerous attempts at renewal.

Auroville was founded in 1968 when 200 people from 20 countries settled in an arid stretch of land in Tamil Nadus Viluppuram district, ten kilometers north of Pondicherry. Following the vision of Mirra Alfassa, a French associate of the spiritual teacher Aurobindo who they call The Mother, they aimed to create a community without private property or exchange of money.

Their philosophy emphasised collective ownership of resources and sustainable living. They planned to support the settlement through a range of small-scale enterprises. Traditional market and management theories were put to the test.

Money, Alfassa had said in 1938, is not meant to make money. She explained: ... Like all forces and all powers, it is by movement and circulation that it grows and increases its power, not by accumulation and stagnation ... What we may call the reign of money is drawing to its close.

Still, it was not going to be easy, she warned. ...the transitional period between the arrangement that has existed in the world till now and the one to come (in a hundred years, for instance), that period is going to be very difficult, she wrote.

Since the inception of the settlement, Aurovillians have undertaken several experiments at achieving a money-less society. They piloted free distribution centres for necessities, a communal pot of money dispensed by a central administration and a basic income provided for those who work in the town. For many in the community, the schemes either enabled a weak economic foundation or shifted the town further away from its dream of a cashless society.

Eight decades after Auroville began, settlement member Hye Jeong Heo heard about Chos idea of Fecal Standard Money on a South Korean media programme. In 2018, Heo met with Cho and his team to explain the ideals of Auroville.

Even though there are different characters, I thought there are commonalities between the Auroville [idea] of money and fSM, said Cho, an environmental engineering professor and director of the Science Walden Center at South Koreas Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology.

At the heart of Chos plan was a toilet that converts human waste into fertilisers and biofuel. By loading powders into reactors that supply food for microorganisms, people would receive Fecal Standard Money that could be used in a market system, perhaps in parallel to existing trading systems.

Feces, like gold, is limited and precious, he wrote in Edge, an avant-garde technology publication. Nobody can make more than a certain limit, and it can be converted to energy.

Cho thought of this as a form of Circular Basic Income, an echo of the increasingly popular idea of Universal Basic Income: a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement, according to the Basic Income Earth Network.

It was Heos daughter, 27-year-old Dan Be Kim who decided to push the idea of Fecal Standard Money in Auroville. She had left the settlement at 17 in 2011 because of a medical condition, but returned in early 2019 to begin a feasibility study on the new currency.

However, a high tech toilet was where we lost a lot of people, she said over a video call from Berlin, where she now lives. There was interest and hesitation, she said, but it was clear that Auroville wasnt ready for a copy paste of fSM. Her team of four re-molded the idea of Fecal Standard Money into the digital aura.

Aura takes its traits from fSM, Cho told in an email. It is, he said, a distinct unit of account, a rusting/disappearing money that depreciates at 9% a day and involves sharing a portion of the allotment with peers in the system.

...Both are twins with different names and separate platforms, but with the same origin and philosophy, he said.

Still, there were bumps along the way. During the research phase, questions were raised in the Auroville community. Why not just do a pure barter? Why do we need any exchange at all? Why have money at all?

It took moving mountains, said Kim.

In a presentation of the idea at Aurovilles Future School in 2019, the teachers, whose classes Kim had sat in long before, were among the most reluctant they told her that the aura wasnt going to work, that plenty of experiments had already been tried.

There is this syndrome because of a repeating pattern of experiments in Auroville where each time they think they are reinventing the wheel, said Kim. Everyone has their niche projects going on, a lot of pioneer groups, they think thats the way to move forward, and then they burn out from the burden of the past.

Kim began to reframe the premise of her project using the language of Auroville. Instead of using the words buy and sell, participants would offer and receive. Instead of products, they focused on the untapped, human collective potential of Auroville space, skills, time.

Its not a tangible value that you can touch, said Kim. Its a spiritual, collective value. We finally got to a point where we could explain that.

With a major launch at the end of 2019, the aura app, created by a team of Aurovillians and nearby volunteers, was available for any registered resident of Auroville, regardless of what work they did or didnt do.

Because the pricing of items, tasks and actions are determined by the users themselves, there is not consistent value. It has to be something ethereal, said 80-year-old Bill Sullivan, who was one of the first Aurovillians five decades ago and worked closely with Kim on the aura. You could give your motor bike for 1 aura or a mango for 100 aura. We have to break those fixed values. Things dont have a value in and of itself its all in the mind. We dont want to reduplicate old economic models.

Kim added: Aura is an alternative currency that does not strictly depend on market-determined prices It is a thought/social experiment to see how people will go about valuing their offerings on the platform when given the freedom with unconditional endowments.

This, she said, is one of the most interesting aspects of research that can be done on user-generated data: Do people value specific goods and services in a specific range when there is the absence of price comparisons or references?

A brochure for the app reads: The aura creates a space for a circular economy where things considered waste, or things that are not being purposed, can first be identified and then upcycled and repurposed.

It states: For money to flow, money must be a means and not an end ... Money as a tool is not intended for accumulation, but rather circulation, it states, echoing Alfassas ideas.

But just as congratulatory comments began flowing in, the application began crashing.

Its been a tremendous problem, said Sullivan, who is known in Auroville as B. At first, it was just for a day or two at a time, but in February this year, the application went down for two weeks.

Weve had a challenge with our developers so we have to focus on getting the app to work well, said Sullivan. We are hoping for more funding from Korea and then we can convince the market and stores in Auroville to use it.

Funded by Chos centre in South Korea, the grant has not been adequate to cover a full-blown technology overhaul so the team is looking for external funding for maintenance costs, Kim said.

When Kim was conducting her research on Auroville, many people told her that Aurovilles economy was unequal, overly bureaucratic with too much talking and not acting, tending towards capitalism, and unsustainable. While this sparked the idea to create an alternative system, the fragile foundations of the communitys economy may be the ideas very undoing.

The issue with Aurovilles economy is its not self-sufficient, said Kim. Its reliant on external sources. Its a problem that has plagued the settlement from its inception.

In its quest to create a settlement free from money, Auroville is a human laboratory. Whether it is nearer or farther from its ideals depends on who you speak to.

Auroville has always been trying to get rid of money, said Manuel Thomas, a chartered accountant from Chennai who co-wrote an economic history of Auroville titled Economics of Earth and People: The Auroville Case 1968 to 2008 and continues to be a consultant for the community. They keep experimenting, but in all these years, there has not been a no-cash economy.

At its inception, Auroville received a periodic Prosperity bundle of clothing, toiletries and other basic needs from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. After the Mother died in 1973, Aurovillians developed differences with the Sri Aurobindo Society. The Central government got involved, leading to a Parliamentary Act that handed over ownership rights to the Auroville Foundation.

The Auroville Foundation owns most of the land, buildings and assets, as Thomas book notes. The community has an international advisory council (similar to a board of directors), a governing board (a top management team appointed by the Indian government) and a residents assembly.

The introduction of the Maintenance system in 1983, which is still in place today, proved to be one of the most controversial moments in the communitys history, said Suryamayi Aswini who did her PhD thesis at Sussex University about the township.

Aurovillians who work in specific jobs receive a monthly stipend in their individual account. One third of Maintenances are received as cash credits that can be exchanged for rupees, while the rest acts as a local currency only usable for goods and services in Auroville. Some Aurovillians receive up to Rs 20,000 per month as a Maintenance, while half of Aurovillians dont receive any money because they determine themselves to be self-supporting.

The settlements major earnings come from micro and small enterprises (known as units) that are mainly involved in handicrafts, textiles, clothing and food. One of its largest employers and economic contributors is Maroma, a fragrance and body care products brand. Other major units include Sunlit Future, a solar grid system, and boutiques such as Kalki and Mira Boutique.

A Central fund (now called the City Services Budget) collects government grants and individual donations as well as earnings from Auroville units. Residents pay a standard monthly contribution, which started at Rs 200 in 1989 and grew to Rs 3,150 in 2018. Volunteers in Auroville have to contribute Rs 900 a month. An additional 20% of visitors accommodation fees is collected in the common budget.

Most of it is allocated to city expenses, the bulk of which goes to Maintenances and education. Aurovilles turnover in 2016-17 was Rs 337 crore. City services receipts for 2016 to 2017 amounted to Rs 19.5 crore, said Thomas, while Rs 51 crore was from grants and donations,.

The monthly City Services Budget, published in Aurovilles News and Notes Letter, stated that the town had a monthly loss of Rs 53 lakh in June 2021. Its internal contributions amounted to Rs 1.3 crore (the majority of which came from its commercial units and services) and its payments amounted to Rs 1.8 crore (of which Rs 34 lakh went to education).

In the early 1990s, those disappointed with the Maintenance system created Seed, a common account in which a small group of residents compiled their Maintenance and private funds to be disbursed back out by an administrator. This grew to other groups and became known as the Circles experiment. It started out full of people, idealism, enthusiasm, but failed to successfully take root, Aswini wrote.

In 2006, another experiment was attempted with Prosperity, a fund that acted more like insurance for times in need. But that fell apart as well.

In 1999, Thomas and a team set out to gather income and expenditure statements and balance sheets to be consolidated into a database, a task that was not only more arduous than assumed but also illuminated the dire state of Aurovilles affairs.

In 2002, the team released a White Paper showing that the contributions of Aurovilles commercial units per capita had dipped significantly in the previous decades. The paper encouraged the settlement to invest more into its commercial sectors to bolster income generation.

Manuel, who is currently updating his account of the settlements economic history, said that Aurovilles dependence on grants and donations seems to have reduced. Even though every experiment runs up against reality, he sees progress.

Basically, the aura is another experiment coming out of the Circles experiments a no cash philosophy, Maneul said. In the end, its still a medium of exchange and a form of informal money. But you are likely not to become an aura millionaire. Its the negative aspects of money that they are trying to avoid.

Henk Thomas, who lived in Auroville three decades ago and Manuels co-author, had a more sceptical take: Its high ideological content without solid thinking. In my view, its not very important or interesting because it covers such a small part of the economy. Henk said the aura is yet further evidence that the township never took heed of the advice contained in his book with Manuel.

There are endless experiments in Auroville and they all fail because in the end, there is a deficit, he said. The same questions come back again and again without new answers. I find it a tragedy that there is so much talent there, all kinds of people thinking from scratch and it dies out because there is no economic authority.

In 2017, Sullivan, who had helped Kim with the virtual currency programme, attempted an economic innovation of his own. He created physical notes out of waste paper with one note valued at Rs 100, exchangeable at Aurovilles Financial Service (which holds the individual financial accounts of Aurovillians and manages the Maintenances). He called one note an aura.

It was his attempt to revise the whole economy, but no one took it seriously, he said. ... Still, maybe [the first aura] broke through something that was a little bit stuck. Maybe those events helped prepare people for this aura.

Sullivan firmly believes that the critics will be proven wrong. In Auroville, you can find someone against everything, he said. This is a quantum leap to something totally different. Weve crossed a threshold and were committed. Weve tried all these other big things. The common pots, the circles. I was a part of them and they didnt really take off.

But the smartphone, he said, is the revolutionary leap that Auroville economics needed.

Manuel is among those keenly watching the aura experiment. He said: The thing with Auroville is it doesnt give up.

Karishma Mehrotra is an independent journalist. She is a Kalpalata Fellow for Technology Writings for 2021.

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Denunciations, beatings and book burnings: when a utopian dream turned sour –

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Auroville is an intentional community founded in 1968 by a French woman named Mirra Alfassa, known as the Mother, an occultist and tennis enthusiast, and the closest disciple and confidante of the Cambridge-educated, Indian freedom fighter turned spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo.

Carved out on a desolate plateau near the southern Indian town of Pondicherry, and founded on the principles of the integral yoga devised by Aurobindo, which envisioned a cellular transformation of mankind, creating a supremental race of men and women, Auroville was designed to bring together people from all the worlds nations, united in the cause of universal harmony a tower of Babel in reverse as the Mother had it

It is now a thriving community of some 3,500 people from 59 countries arguably the most successful reforestation effort in India, Akash Kapur writes, and a global model for environmental conservation.

But it wasnt always so. Akash Kapur, whose father is Indian and mother American, grew up in Auroville, left to attend boarding-school in America and later went to Harvard, before returning to live in Auroville in 2004. This beautifully written and thought-provoking account of the communitys earliest days, a study of idealism and naivety and the conflict between reason and faith, follows the fortunes of three characters.

John Walker was American, the son of John Walker III, the director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and Lady Margaret Drummond, the daughter of Sir Eric Drummond, the first secretary to the League of Nations and British ambassador to Rome. After getting mixed up in the Timothy Leary LSD experiments at Harvard, and moving through Catholicism and Zen Buddhism, John arrived at Auroville in 1969.

It was there that he met Diane Maes, the daughter of a house-painter from a small town in Belgium, who, having rebelled against the constraints of her Catholic education, moved back and forth between Europe and India before finally settling in the community.

The third is the French writer Bernard Enginger, a former member of theFrench Resistance and a concentration-camp survivor who, after making his way to Auroville, became the Mothers most ardent disciple, taking the nameSatprem.

The modernist architect Roger Anger, who drew up the initial blueprint for Auroville, envisaged skyscrapers, moving sidewalks, an airport, a world trade centre a utopian city that would require $8bn to create and which, of course, would never be forthcoming. At ground level, the new settlers, mostly Western spiritual seekers, laboured without any mechanical equipment, digging out wells, irrigating saplings with jugs of water, and excavating an expanse of land in readiness for the building of the Matrimandir, the spiritual heart of Auroville, a massive sphere 118ft across and 97ft high, encrusted with gold discs and containing a huge, marble-lined meditation area the Divines answer to mans aspiration for perfection, as the Mother put it.

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INDORE: Free Press in association with Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Science honours The Corona Warriors – Free Press Journal

Posted: January 23, 2021 at 7:54 pm

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Updated on : Saturday, January 23, 2021, 6:58 PM IST

Chief guests IG Harinarayanachari Mishra, MGM Medical College dean Dr Sanjay Dixit, SAIMS chairman Dr Vinod Bhandari, cardiologist Dr A K Pancholia inaugurating the function at Free Press House on SaturdayFP pic

Indore: Free Press and Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Science (SAIMS) felicitated doctors who led the way by getting vaccinated and dispelled the myth surrounding it. About 70 doctors were present at the function organised at Free Press House on Saturday. They shared their views post vaccination and encouraged others for it.

The chief guests at the function were IGP Harinarayanachari Mishra, MGM Medical College dean Dr Sanjay Dixit, SAIMS chairman Dr Vinod Bhandari and cardiologist Dr A K Pancholia.

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INDORE: Free Press in association with Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Science honours The Corona Warriors - Free Press Journal

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January 23rd, 2021 at 7:54 pm

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Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu addresses the Officer Trainees attending at MCR HRD Institute, Hyderabad – India Education Diary

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New Delhi: Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today called upon the youth to take inspiration from the life of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and work for eradication of poverty, illiteracy, social and gender discrimination, corruption, casteism and communalism.

The Vice President made these remarks while addressing the Officer Trainees attending the Foundation Course at MCR HRD Institute, Hyderabad on the occasion of 125th Birth Anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose which is being celebrated as Parakram Diwas across the country.

Noting that 65 percent of our population is below 35 years of age, Shri Naidu said that the youth should lead from the front in building a New India a happy and prosperous India where every citizen gets equal opportunities and where there is no discrimination of any kind.

Terming Parakram or courage as the most defining feature of Netajis persona, the Vice President lauded the Governments decision to celebrate Netajis birthday as PARAKRAM DIWAS to inspire people of the country.

Paying rich tributes to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, he said that Netaji was a charismatic leader and one of the most towering personalities of the freedom movement who believed that for Indias progress, we need to rise above the caste, creed, religion and region and consider ourselves as Indians first.

Referring to the pivotal role played by Subhas Chandra Bose and several freedom fighters, social reformers, including unsung heroes from different regions, he said that many people were not aware of their greatness as the contributions made by them were not properly projected in the history books. We have to celebrate the lives of many of our great leaders. We have to come out of the colonial mindset, he asserted.

Shri Naidu said, It is said that the increasing loyalty of the Indian Armed Forces towards their motherland hastened the process of the British departure from India. Observing that different leaders approached the freedom movement in different ways, the Vice President said the ultimate goal of all them was to achieve Indias freedom from colonial rule.

Highlighting that Netaji wanted abolition of the caste system in India, Shri Naidu said that as far back as in the 1940s, soldiers of all castes, creeds and religions lived together, ate together in common kitchens and fought as Indians first and last. Netaji always used to stress that the progress of India would be possible only with the uplift of the down-trodden and the marginalized sections, he said.

Recalling that Shri Bose stood against injustice in every form right from his school days, the Vice President mentioned about the influence of the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo on him. Shri Naidu said this spirituality became a source of inner strength.

Noting that Netajis democratic ideals were based on the principles of sacrifice and renunciation, the Vice President said that Shri Bose wanted the citizens to imbibe the values of discipline, responsibility, service and patriotism for democracy to thrive in free India.

Shri Naidu said that the true spirit of Nationalism is about working for the welfare of all the citizens in the country.

The Vice President also said that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose always took pride in Indias civilizational values and rich cultural heritage, which he felt formed the bedrock of our national pride and collective self-confidence.

Shri Naidu said that Netaji not only wanted emancipation from political bondage but also believed in equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social inequalities.

Listing the qualities of Netajis inspiring leadership, the Vice President said that with his magical presence, he could enthuse and turn the soldiers who were Prisoners of War into Freedom Fighters and they became ready to fight till last breath for their dear leader and for their motherland. Shri Naidu said that Netaji and Azad Hind Fauj captured peoples imagination as was evident in the popular support received by them during the trial of INA prisoners by British authorities. Consequently, the Britishers had to take a lenient view of INA soldiers, he said.

The Vice President underlined that Shri Bose believed in giving equal pedestal to women in every sphere of life- be it social, economic, or political. Progressiveness of Netajis ideas can be gauged from his decision to form a womens corps in INA named Rani of Jhansi Regiment, he said and appreciated the Governments decision to provide Permanent Commission for the women in Armed Forces.

Mentioning Netajis belief that education was essential for character building and all-round development of human life, Shri Naidu called for revamping our methods of teaching and pedagogy for meaningful education and for India to emerge as an education hub and knowledge-based economy.

Shri Harpreet Singh, Director General of MCR HRD Institute, Shri Benhur Mahesh Dutta Ekka, Additional Director General of the Institute, faculty, staff and Officer Trainees were among those present at the event.

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Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu addresses the Officer Trainees attending at MCR HRD Institute, Hyderabad - India Education Diary

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January 23rd, 2021 at 7:54 pm

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Top 10 Must-read Books by Indian authors – The Statesman

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Books are the best companion in every situation. They are the gateway to a whole different world. Reading books is like taking a deep dive into authors creative vessels of creations. A creation that churns out from an individuals own life experiences and knowledge. The world is full of such beautiful and interesting works of art. And, it takes a deeper dive to find extraordinary pearls from the ocean.

India is known for its rich and incredible culture. After every ten miles of a journey in India brings to you a different dialect, language, style, and taste. Indian literature in itself is pretty ancient and versatile. However, English Indian literature is not very old as it took off in 1930 with the work of the writers like Henry Louis Vivian Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, and Sri Aurobindo, followed by R. K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, and Raja Rao.

Here we share a list of the works from globally-acclaimed Indian writers, who have lately written in the English language to share their intellectual gifts with the world. This reading may help you in your reading journey by expanding your horizons a little further.

Set in contemporary India, Arvind Adigas Man-Booker-Prize-winning debut novel has humorously captured the unspoken voice of many who live in the darkness. The novel describes Indias class struggle in a darkly humorous perspective through a retrospective narration from Balram Halwai, a village boy. The novel has made it to the New York Times bestseller list. At the age of 33, he was the second youngest writer. Adiga said, his novel attempt to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India the voice of the colossal underclass.

A 1954 novel by Kamala Markandaya, the book is set in India during a period of intense urban development. The title of the novel, Nectar in a Sieve is taken from the 1825 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Work Without Hope. The novel is narrated by Rukmani, a woman from rural and impoverished India, who gets married to Nathan, a tenant farmer at the age of 12.

In the novel, the author describes the chronicle of her marriage till her husband dies. Rukmani comments, Change I had known before, and it had been gradual. But the change that now came into my life, into all our lives, blasting its way into our village, seemed wrought in the twinkling of an eye.

When a fictional book is written by a renowned scholar, a former international diplomat, who himself is serving as a member of the Indian Parliament since 2009, then surely the outcome must be exciting.

The book, published in 1956 recreates and recasts the Hindu epic, Mahabharata in line with Indias political struggle for independence from Great Britain. The post-independence period has also been discussed with great satire depicting the weaknesses of Indians and the agony of British rulers.

Written by an Indian author, lawyer, diplomat, journalist, and politician. This historical novel was released in 1956. The work highlights the events of the great partition of British India. The book focuses more on the plight of people who had to migrate from Pakistan to India or vis-a-vis.

The events have been described in the light of human loss and its horrors that has been faced by many. The blame cannot be put in ones basket.

Muslims said the Hindus had planned and started the killing. According to the Hindus, the Muslims were to blame. The fact is, both sides were killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped

The work is led and narrated by a woman character, Draupadi from the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association summarizes the plot as Smart, resilient, and courageous Panchaali, born of fire, marries all five of the famously heroic Pandava brothers, harbors a secret love, endures a long exile in the wilderness, instigates a catastrophic war, and slowly learns the truth about Krishna, her mysterious friend.

Love comes like lightning and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, youll spend your life yearning for a man you cant have.

Written in 1958, like R.K Narayans other works, the novel is set in a fictional town in South India, Malgudi. The book had been crafted into a Bollywood movie, casting great actor, Dev Anand.

Its a story of a tour guide, who initially was corrupt, with his life experiences and events, he gradually became a spiritual guide and later the greatest holy man. For this work of fiction, Narayan won the 1960 Sahitya Akademi Award for English, by the Sahitya Akademi, Indias National Academy of Letters.

But you are not my wife. You are a woman who will go to bed with anyone who flatters your antics. Thats

A novel released in 1984 was set in Delhi, India, and written by Indian American Author Anita Desai. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1984 as well. The works main character Devan leads an ordinary mundane life, and how he finds meaning in his life. The book is a sensitive portrayal of human nature. A brilliant story describing the gradual loss of the graduality of culture and tradition in the face of modernity. The work highlights the complexity of human relationships in the quest for individuality.

The Booker Prize winner novel expresses the childhood difficulties of two fraternal twins, along with their parents and their extended family. The book narrates how small things affect our behaviors and lives. Indian writer and activist, Roys first novel expose the caste system and more deep-rooted problems of Indian culture.

Published in 1993, the novel is one of the longest novels published in a single volume. It is one of the acclaimed works of Vikram Seth, set in the post-partition and after-independence era in India. The work details the life of four families and covers various aspects of the time through the lead role of Latta, whose mother is keen to find a suitable boy for her daughter. Her character depicts how women were and even till today are not free to make independent choices.

The novel describes the story of four extraordinary lives. The work has the potential to create an impact that will stay for a longer period of time even when you have finished reading the book. It is Shanghvis debut novel, which can emancipate deep human emotions of the feelings of joy and sorrows in anyones heart.

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Top 10 Must-read Books by Indian authors - The Statesman

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January 23rd, 2021 at 7:54 pm

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Theatre of the absurd – The Tribune India

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Is there nothing left in our politics except the recurrence of cinematic performances? In fact, the drama has already begun as the dominant political parties are thinking of their strategies to win the elections in West Bengal in 2021. To begin with, think of Amit Shah supposedly a master strategist who understands the psychology as well as the mathematics of the electoral politics. Possibly, in this media-saturated world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the real from the hyper real. Hence, because of the endless procession of media simulations depicting and disseminating his symbolic gestures as he visits Bengal, we are led to believe that Amit Shah is a great admirer of Rabindranath Tagore; nothing fascinates him more than the company of a baul mystic; and he cant imagine his existence without the ideals Swami Vivekananda preached. Or, for that matter, these days, Narendra Modi seems to be quite fond of quoting Sri Aurobindo, and he is eager to restore the lost glory of Bengal by invoking Netaji Subhas Chandra Boses heroism. In other words, the message is conveyed: none can say that the BJP is an alien organisation, and doesnt understand what Bengal loves: be it Rabindra Sangeet or Ramakrishna Paramahamsas Dakshineswar Kali temple. From hyper-masculine militant nationalists to tender/spiritually sensitive souls with Tagore and Vivekananda as intimate companions: this theatrical act of role playing, it seems, is seen to be a way of charming the Bengali audience. Yes, be prepared for the elections; the stage is ready!

The saffron outfit knows it has to shed its north Indian look and show intimacy with Bengali icons and symbols.

Why is it so? In order to find a meaningful answer to this question, it is important to see the dominant Bengali bhadralok (predominantly, forward caste Hindu) consciousness. Possibly, it would not be entirely wrong to say that this consciousness has not yet been able to free itself from the lost glory of the nineteenth and early twentieth century when Bengal through its renaissance figures from Raja Rammohun Roy to Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, or from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee to Jagadish Chandra Bose witnessed remarkable innovations in the realm of culture, religion and politics. Even though in recent times particularly after the trauma of partition, the influx of the refugees, and the simultaneous economic problem and socio-cultural turmoil Bengal has decayed in almost every sphere, be it education or socio-economic development, the nostalgia remains. And this fixation or, the refusal to come to terms with the new reality in post-Independent India has three consequences.

First, we see some sort of regression: a tendency to stick to the mythical cultural pride with its exclusionary character. Hence, any keen observer of the bhadralok psyche would say that it is not uncommon to see the process of othering non-Bengalis with some sort of negative stereotypes say, the notion that the Marwaris or the Biharis are not the ones who can understand the films of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen; or for that matter, the Gujaratis, it would be argued, know only business; and hence, they cant understand what it meant to be a Rabindranath Tagore or an Amartya Sen. Second, with the passage of time, the engagement with all these Bengali icons, it appears, has been degenerated into mere ritualism: just a process of reaffirmation of the Bengali bhadralok identity. No wonder, Rabindranath Tagore has been reduced into a ritualistic mantra of singing a couple of songs (otherwise, how does one explain the systematic decay of Santiniketan, and spirituality means nothing more than a weekly visit to the Ramakrishna Mission, and listening to the Bengali-speaking monks. And third, the political class has always appropriated and cleverly played with these iconic symbols. For instance, an average Bengali would feel immensely happy if it is said that Netaji was the real hero, and the likes of Gandhi and Nehru betrayed him. Likewise, even the leftists quote selectively from Tagore, and tend to give the impression that the poet was some sort of a Marxist. In fact, be it the centrists, rightists or leftists, there is hardly any political group that will not seek to establish its claim over Tagore, Vivekananda, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Subhas Chandra Bose.

With its triumphant agenda, the BJP too is not lagging behind. It knows that it has to overcome its north Indian look, show its intimacy with all these Bengali icons and symbols, and play the same game of appropriation. Hence, as it is thought, Vivekananda and Tagore ought to be recalled time and again to deprive Mamata Banerjee or, for that matter, bhadralok Marxists of their monopoly over the much-hyped Bengali culture. As this ugly politics of appropriation with its dramaturgical performance becomes the new normal, a severe damage is caused to our ethical and political sensibilities. Imagine Swami Vivekanandas celebrated speech at the Chicago Religious Congress the monks celebration of the Upanishadic message of oneness amid the plurality of paths and traditions; or his urge to transform practical Vedanta into some sort of radical religiosity to create a humane/egalitarian society. Does the BJP understand that the radical monk cannot be fitted into the discourse of militant Hindutva? Or think of Tagore his critique of narcissistic nationalism and the associated psychology of violence, and his poetic universalism as our true religiosity. Will Shah or Modi really contemplate, read the poets Geetanjali or the classic novel Gora, look at themselves, and rethink their politics? Or is it that it is just yet another act of role-playing?

However, the ultimate question is whether you and I can renew our critical faculty, and convey a message to these smart performers that we are not going to be hypnotised by this theatre of the absurd.

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Theatre of the absurd - The Tribune India

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January 3rd, 2021 at 12:52 pm

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India at the Hague, from Savarkar to Jadhav – The Indian Express

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Written by Prabhakar Singh

The year 2020 was historic for being the centenary of the adoption of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice (the PCIJ) in the Hague. The PCIJ complemented the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that was established in the Hague in 1899. The PCA was established to facilitate arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution between states after the made-in-India expanding Dumdum bullets made the 19th-century European wars untenable. That India has walked hand in hand with the two Hague courts for a century bears reminding.

The Savarkar legend of crossing the sea to escape the British rule was born at the Hague. In 1910, V D Savarkar, a British-Indian subject, escaped British capture to be later detained aboard a British commercial vessel harboured at Marseille, France en route to India. Savarkar was to be tried for abetment of murder. Savarkar swam ashore but was arrested by a brigadier of the French maritime and turned over to the British. The French government, however, disapproved of the manner in which Savarkar was returned to British custody. Paris demanded Savarkars restitution to France on the ground of Savarkars defective extradition. The two governments agreed to submit their dispute to a PCA tribunal. The tribunal concluded that the defective extradition did not result in any obligation on the British government to restore Savarkar to the French. In the same year, Sri Aurobindo, successfully left British India for Pondicherry from Chandernagore, a French enclave in Eastern India. Between two European empires, the PCA made international law an object of imperial convenience.

After World War II, the PCIJ at the Hague became the International Court of Justice (the ICJ). The ICJs role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. The ICJ is composed of 15 judges, elected for terms of office of nine years by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The ICJ as a whole must represent the main forms of civilization and the principal legal systems of the world.

Article 51 of the Constitution of India promotes faith in international law and dispute resolution by arbitration. Sir Benegal Rau, advisor to Indias Constituent Assembly, was appointed as judge to the ICJ in 1952. In 1973, Nagendra Singh became the second ICJ judge from India. President judge Singh presided over the ICJs perhaps the most important case, the Nicaragua case, where the Court ruled against the United States. While the Nicaragua case became the toast of textbooks, the role of the African and Asian judges in creating the precedents that spoke law to power in the middle of the Cold War remains, like things Third World, less acknowledged.

India has strongly believed in the Hague courts for the resolution of disputes despite, as jurist Antony Anghie says, international law and its courts having been complicit in the project of colonisation. In 1958, Portugal sued India at the ICJ for not allowing Lisbon to cross Indian territory with arms to quell nationalist movements in Daman and Diu. The ICJ ruled that Portugal had only a right of civil, not military, passage subject to Indias consent. Taiwanese Judge Wellington Koo had supported the right the passage of Portuguese armed forces, armed police and arms and ammunition. That very year, Cambodia took Thailand to the ICJ to decide the ownership of the Preah Vihear Temple. The ICJ in June 1962 ruled in favour of Cambodia. K Krishna Rao, Indias legal advisor, immediately suggested going to the ICJ for the resolution of the India-China border dispute with the Preah Vihear precedent in mind. Within months, China retaliated on the Himalayas lest India legalises the dispute at the Hague. Most recently, India took the Kulbhushan Jadhav case to the ICJ. Needless to say, India has been a supporter of peaceful international dispute resolution at the Hague.

In November 2020, speaking at the third PCA-India Conference, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla highlighted how upholding of international law is key to Indias diplomacy. India sees both the courts in the Hague helping to promote international law and lawfare. Shringla said India supports the PCA and its mandate to resolve international disputes. The upholding of international law is central to our diplomacy and in fact our world view.

That cannot be said of China, however. Beijing is working overtime to develop a modern tributary system, a Chinese brand of imperialism, with the belt and road initiative to which India is not a party. Shringlas comments become important after Beijing has stood out in disregarding international law including rejecting a PCA award; the South China Sea award given under the UN Law of the Sea. Yet Chinese judges, as part of the ICJ and other international courts, continue to adjudge cases involving other countries.

The end of 2020 marks India investing, between the Savarkar and the Jadhav cases, a century of faith in international law and international dispute resolution.

The writer is Associate Professor & Executive Director, Centre for International Legal Studies, Jindal Global Law School

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India at the Hague, from Savarkar to Jadhav - The Indian Express

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January 3rd, 2021 at 12:52 pm

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Average speed on Delhi roads dropped after rollback of lockdown – The Hindu

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The mean travel speed on some Delhi stretches dipped from 46 kmph during the lockdown period to 29 kmph after it as the reopening of the economy led to a rebound in congestion, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a report on Monday.

The report is significant as the level of congestion on roads has a strong bearing on vehicular pollution.

"The rebound of congestion post-lockdown indicates Delhi is not prepared for transformational changes to cut down the volume of traffic," the CSE said.

It tracked this change with the help of data from the Google Mobility Report on different categories of visits classified as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential.

It also analysed traffic speed data from Google as a proxy to understand the level of congestion that has a strong bearing on vehicular pollution, which is significant in Delhi.

The selected 12 major roads included the MG Road, NH44, Sardar Patel Marg, Outer Ring Road, Dr KB Hegdewar Marg, Sri Aurobindo Marg, NH 9, Mehrauli-Badarpur Road, GT Karnal Rd, Lal Bahadur Sha, Dwarka Marg and Najafgarh Marg.

The CSEs travel speed data analysis shows that the mean travel speed on the selected stretches increased from 24 kmph pre-lockdown to 46 kmph during lockdown a 90% increase when fewer vehicles came on the roads as only essential travels were allowed.

But the mean speed reduced again to 29 kmph post-lockdown, it shows.

During peak hours, the travel speed on the selected stretches increased from 23 kmph pre-lockdown to 44 kmph during lockdown. But this again reduced to 27 km per hour post-lockdown, it says.

The CSE said the rebound of congestion is happening when the public transport ridership in Delhi is still low due to the fear of contracting the virus and the scale of public transport options is still very inadequate to meet the demand.

"Public transport is expected to be further constrained by the social distancing norms. This is already encouraging people to shift to private modes of transport," it said.

"Delhi cannot meet its clean air targets if overall traffic and vehicle numbers are not controlled. Delhi Master Plan 2020-21 had set a target of 80% public transport ridership by 2020 that has been missed," the report reads.

The CSE said an eighty-seven percent drop was recorded in visits to transit stations for different purposes during hard lockdown as compared to the baseline levels or the pre-lockdown phase.

"Trips to grocery stores and pharmacies were reduced by more than 70%, but were still higher than all the other visits, as people were trying to restock and prepare for the lockdown.

"Workplace trips reduced by as much as 65% during the weekdays as work from home was widely practiced The change in traffic pattern has also shown up in the air quality data. In fact, the hourly change in nitrogen oxide levels that are more strongly correlated with the traffic nearly flattened during this period," the CSE said.

"Post-lockdown, the travel pattern was close to normal but did not fully regain the pre-lockdown level. Grocery trips and workplace trips recovered maximum by the end of November and were now only about 15% lower than the pre-lockdown phase," it said.

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